***1/2 (out of 5)
March 9, 2012
Taylor Kitsch as JOHN CARTER
Lynn Collins as DEJAH THORIS
Samantha Morton as SOLA
Willem Dafoe as TARS TARKAS
Thomas Haden Church as TAL HAJUS
Mark Strong as MATAI SHANG
Ciarán Hinds as TARDOS MORS
Dominic West as SAB THAN
Directed by: Andrew Stanton
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
For better or for worse, whether “John Carter” is a hit or not, I’m glad to see some of the master directors of animation take a step into the live-action world. Last year, we got a taste of what can be done it when Brad Bird knocked it out of the part with “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.” Now, we get to see what Andrew Stanton (director of “Finding Nemo” and “WALL-E”) is able to do in the science fiction realm.
Though this has been an uphill battle for Stanton, and it is reflected in the movie. That’s not a harsh criticism of the film, but rather a statement of reality. Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote the John Carter books in the 1920s, and storytelling was a very different animal back then. It was not necessary to grab the reader from page one. There was more patience involved, and less distractions. The original “Princess of Mars,” on which most of “John Carter” is based, was a product of the 20s.
Armed with this knowledge and understanding of from whence the story came, one can truly appreciate “John Carter.” Unfortunately, if you’re just a slathering mind-numbed idiot who only wants big spectacle in his or her blockbuster, you might not get into this film.
The story follows a Civil War veteran named John Carter, who dies and leaves a manuscript for his nephew. The story in the pages tells how Carter went searching for gold in the mountains and stumbled across a mysterious being whose bracelet transports him to Mars. On the red planet, John Carter meets a tribe of beings who first capture him and later welcome him. However, the bigger story comes from two human-like kingdoms at war. The princess (Lynn Collins) of one kingdom flees an arranged marriage, and John Carter helps her lead a rebellion.
The entire story behind “John Carter” is the essence of high concept, especially in the day and age it was originally created. That was a time where space travel was almost four decades away and real knowledge of our solar system was scarce. Stanton does his best to smooth things out for a modern audience, though with as much as is going on behind the scenes, the first fifteen minutes of the film is saddled with a lot of exposition.
But if you can get past these moments, like a more patient reader in the 1920s, you’d find a fantastic and epic space adventure before you.
The keystones of this film all come in the visual realm. The effects are fantastic and often breathtaking. The battle sequences are powerful and shake the room. In particular, the arena sequence (which is teased on some of the print marketing for the film) is some of the best I’ve seen. Adding to these elements, you have the nine-foot-tall, four-armed Martians who are fully computer generated and controlled with motion capture.
These Martians represent a huge leap forward in technology, trumping the gold standard set by James Cameron in “Avatar.” They blend seamlessly with their human counterparts, making this a stunning movie to watch.
Yes, there are some pacing issues, but I can forgive this. Similarly, there are elements of the film that could be considered cliche or trite, though like the old episodes of “The Twilight Zone,” they were fiercely original when they were first conceived.
In the end, “John Carter” is a blast of a film. The visuals are amazing, and the action is fantastic. Shot in 3D, the entire movie looks incredible. Like modern classic Disney films such as “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” it’s a great adventure the entire family can enjoy.